The Poky Little Puppy Follows His Nose Home

The Poky Little Puppy Follows His Nose Home by Adelaide Holl, illustrated by Alex C. Miclat, 1975.

This book is part of the Poky Little Puppy series of picture books from Little Golden Books.

The puppies’ mother allows them to go exploring a little outside of their own yard, but she warns them to stay away from the highway because the cars are dangerous and reminds them to be home in time for dinner. She also adds that if they get lost, they should rely on their sense of smell to get home.

As the puppies explore, they meet other animals in the countryside and stop to play. Eventually, they find themselves on the edge of the city. They are frightened of the noise of the cars, and a pigeon tells them that they’d better stay away from the city if they want to avoid cars.

The puppies realize that they need to turn around and go home, but when they try to sniff for familiar smells to go home, they have trouble. When they try to smell the apple orchard, they accidentally find a stand where a man is ffselling apples instead. Trying to smell flowers leads them to a flower cart. Trying to sniff for animals smells leads them to the zoo.

Then, the Poky Little Puppy realizes that what they really need to do is sniff for their own smell so they can retrace their steps home. Sniffing for their own trail works, and the puppies get home in time for dinner!

My Reaction

Like other Poky Little Puppy books, the story is cute. Nothing very stressful happens in the story, making it a good story for bedtime. Even though the puppies get lost temporarily, it isn’t for very long, and they get home in time for dinner, as they do in other Poky Little Puppy books.

The Poky Little Puppy

The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, 1942, 1982.

This is a famous class children’s book, the first in a series from the Little Golden Books collection! In fact, it was one of the original first 12 Little Golden Books that were published in 1942.

Five little puppies like to dig holes under the fence and go exploring. Then, four of the puppies realize that one of their brothers isn’t with them. They look around and find him sniffing at the ground. When they ask him what he’s doing, he says that he smells something.

The puppies realize that the smell is rice pudding, and they hurry home to get some. However, their mother is angry about the holes they dug and sends them to bed without dessert.

The puppy who originally smelled the rice pudding is slower than the others (or “poky” as the book describes him, which is why he’s called the Poky Little Puppy). He comes home later than the others, and while everyone is asleep, he eats all the rice pudding himself.

The next day, their mother puts up a sign telling them not to dig holes under the fence, but the puppies ignore it and dig holes anyway so they can go exploring. While they’re out, the Poky Little Puppy hears something.

The other puppies realize that it’s the sound of chocolate custard being dished up, and they hurry home to get some. Again, they’re punished for digging holes, and they’re sent to bed without dessert. And again, the Poky Little Puppy comes home last and eats all the dessert while everyone is in bed.

The next day, the puppies dig holes again, but this time, when they hurry home for dessert and their mother is mad at them, the four puppies who got home quickly fill in the holes they dug. Their mother, seeing that they fixed the holes, decides to let them have their dessert. The Poky Little Puppy, who came home late again, doesn’t get any because the others ate his share, too.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies).

My Reaction

This is a very simple story, but I remember liking it as a kid. Kids like stories with repetition, so the repeated incidents in the book appeal to them. The Poky Little Puppy thinks that he’s found a trick to getting all the dessert by staying out late enough that his mother has gone to bed and can’t tell him to go to bed without dessert. But, his trick stops working when the other puppies clean up their act and get the dessert before he even gets there. In the end, all of the puppies learn that digging holes means no dessert for any of them anymore.

Where Will All the Animals Go?

Where Will All the Animals Go? by Sharon Holaves, illustrated by Leigh Grant, 1978.

This book is one of the Little Golden Book picture books.

A little boy named Matt goes to visit his grandfather on his farm. They notice a storm approaching, and Matt worries about where the animals will go when the storm comes. His grandfather tells him that the animals all know where to go.

The animals also notice the approaching storm. When the rain comes, Matt and his grandfather go inside the house with the cats. After the storm is over, Matt’s grandfather takes him outside to show him where all the animals went during the storm.

Matt watches as all of the animals, both the domesticated animals of the farm and the wild animals who also live there, emerge from their hiding places. Every animal has a place to go, and they’re all fine after the storm.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction

I like this story because it’s very calm. I think it could make a good bedtime story for young children. Although the boy in the story is concerned about the animals and where they will go during the storm, the animals are never in any danger. The grandfather knows that the animals will all be fine, and he reassures his grandson that they all have a place to go. It’s reassuring that the storm is natural, the animals know what to do when it happens, and the boy sees that everything is fine. The story ends with the boy and his grandfather watching the sun come out after the storm.

Usborne First Book of Nature

Usborne First Book of Nature designed by David Bennett, 1980.

I remember getting this book as a present from my grandmother as a child because my grandmother was an amateur naturalist. Although it’s a nonfiction book, I’m sentimental about it for that reason.

The book is divided into four sections covering different types of plants and creatures (each of which has its own book in the Usborne collection, but this book is a compilation):


This chapter explains about the parts of birds, like the different shapes of beaks and feet different birds have, aspects of birds lives and behavior, and how birds fly.


This chapter explains the parts of trees, like how roots and twigs grow and the differences between different types of leaves, tree flowers, and seeds.


This chapter explains the parts of flowers and about pollen and seeds. It also points out the creatures that like to visit flowers, like bees and hummingbirds.

Butterflies and Moths

This chapter explains the similarities and differences between butterflies and moths and what their life cycles are like.

One of the best parts of this book is that it is designed to be interactive as well as informative. Some of the activities are explained at the beginning of each chapter, and there’s a puzzle or game at the end of each chapter. The upper right corners of each chapter have images that are meant to be used as a flip book. In the bird section, readers can quickly flip the pages to watch a bird fly. In the tree section, a leaf bud opens. In the flower section, a flower opens. In the butterfly and moth section, a butterfly opens and closes its wings.

Each chapter also has a game where you hunt for different creatures within the pages of that chapter and see how many you can find, and then, there’s another game or puzzle at the end. At the end of the bird chapter, there’s a picture puzzle where you have to find all the birds hidden in a black-and-white picture. At the end of the tree section, you have to find how many products are made from or come from trees in a busy market scene. At the end of the flower chapter, you have to match up different types of fruits with their flowers. The butterfly and moth section doesn’t have a game at the end.

This book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

The Fourth Question

The Fourth Question retold by Rosalind C. Wang, illustrated by Ju-Hong Chen, 1991.

This is a retelling of a Chinese folktale.

There was once a poor young man, Yee-Lee who lived with his mother. Even though Yee-Lee works very hard, he can barely make enough money to keep him and his mother alive. He wonders why he has so little money even though he works so hard and decides to go to the Wise Man of Kun-lun Mountain to seek the answer and his advice so he and his mother can have a better life.

It’s a long way to reach the Wise Men, and along the way, he encounters other people who also needed help. A kind old woman who gives Yee-Lee some water and food has a daughter who is unable to speak and wants to know how to help her. An old man has a tree in his orchard that won’t bear fruit, and he can’t figure out why. A dragon who helps Yee-Lee to reach the mountain cannot manage to fly to heaven even though he has lived a good life. Yee-Lee has sympathy for all of these people and the dragon and appreciates the help they give him, so he promises that when he reaches the Wise Man, he will seek the answers to their problems as well.

However, when Yee-Lee finally reaches the Wise Man, he is told that he is only allowed to ask three questions during his visit. It’s a problem because Yee-Lee now has four questions to ask, the three that he promised to ask for others plus the original question that he wanted to ask for himself. He has to decide which of the questions will go unanswered.

Yee-Lee’s question is important to him, but when he thinks about the other people who are now depending on him to come back with answers for him, he reluctantly decides to forget his own question and answer theirs. However, in solving the problems of others, Yee-Lee finds the solution to his own problem. Like the heroes of other folktales, Yee-Lee is rewarded for his good deeds!

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

The Bone Keeper

The Bone Keeper by Megan McDonald, paintings by G. Brian Karas, 1999.

The story in this picture book is written as an unrhymed poem and illustrated with paintings that resemble paintings on a cave wall.

Bone Woman is a strange old woman. She is ancient, legendary, may have powers to bring back the dead, and lives in a cave full of bones.

She spends her time searching for bones in the desert sand. She collects the bones, studies them, and arranges them to form complete skeletons.

When she manages to complete a skeleton, she performs a ritual to bring the creature back to life!

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.

My Reaction

This is one of those picture books that I think would actually be appreciated more by adults than by children. The poetry and art style seem more sophisticated than the styles that children seem to prefer. Most of the pictures are not very colorful, using a lot of grays and browns and black, although the art style is unusual and fascinating, looking like paintings and drawings scratched into rock.

I think kids could understand the action of the story – a strange old woman who lives in a cave collects bones, assembles them into skeletons, and can use them to bring animals back to life. It’s a strange story, partly because there is no explanation about why she is doing this.

One of my regrets about this book is that it doesn’t explain the background of this story. I had expected that there would be a section at the back of the book that would explain more, but there isn’t. From the context – the pictures, the style of the story, the names that the woman is called, and the fact that the artist thanked the Phoenix Public Library and the Heard Museum (both places that are familiar to me) in the dedication – adults can figure out that this is a story from folklore, but it’s not immediately clear what kind of folklore. Anyone who doesn’t already know the story might be confused. I didn’t know this story when I read the book, so I had to look it up.

The story of the Bone Woman has been told and referenced in other books. The story of La Huesera (the Bone Woman) is a Mexican folktale. Sometimes, it’s also called La Loba (the Wolf Woman) because that is the animal that she particularly wants to resurrect. The Bone Woman is a “wild woman” or a “crone” who uses a kind of natural magic to bring life to lifelessness and restoring what was lost.

Eyewitness Medieval Life


Medieval Life by Andrew Langley, photographed by Geoff Brightling and Geoff Dann, 1988, 2004.

I love books that explain the details of daily life in the past, and I especially like Eyewitness books because they include such great photographs to show objects that people would have used in the past.

This book begins by explaining the time period of the “Middle Ages”, which was the period between Ancient Greece and Rome and the Renaissance, when culture and knowledge from Ancient Greece and Rome came back into vogue. The Middle Ages lasted about 1000 years, roughly from 400 to about 1540 AD. (Estimates of the start and end dates vary because this was a period defined by cultural changes, which are gradual and don’t have precise start and end dates.) This long period of time can also be divided into smaller periods and contained many important events that helped to shape society and culture, including The Crusades and The Great Plague.

Medieval society was hierarchical and was based on land ownership. The king and the highest nobles controlled the land and allowed people in lower levels of society to use it or grant farming rights to peasants in exchange for rent in the form of their services and a share of what they produced. The peasants or serfs were tied to the land they farmed, and the land was owned by the lords they served. They were not regarded as “free” people, and they couldn’t leave their lord or the land except by raising enough money to buy some land for themselves or by marrying a free person from a higher level of society.

A lord’s manor included not only his manor house or castle but the nearby village, church, and the farmland where his serfs worked. Often, villages and manors had little contact with the outside world, so the people who lived there had to make most of what they needed themselves. Most people never left their land or were only able to travel a short distance from it, so the only new people they might meet would be traveling peddlers, soldiers, or pilgrims.

The book explains what would be found in a typical Medieval home. Poor people lived in houses that had only one or two rooms for the entire family. Few people could afford to buy glass windows. Poor people only had wooden shutters to cover their windows. Others might have tallow-coated linen over a lattice frame, which would let in light, and some wealthier people had pieces of polished horn in their windows, which also let in light, although you couldn’t really see through them well. What people ate varied depending on their social status. Wealthier people could afford a wider variety of foods, and poor people mostly ate what they produced themselves.

Women’s lives also varied depending on their social status. Pleasant women farmed and provided for their families alongside their husbands. Women in families of craftsmen and tradesmen often worked alongside the men in the family business. Wealthy women managed their husbands’ households or could rise to rank of influential abbess if they joined religious orders. However, the highest ranks in society were occupied by men.

While peasants served their lords, lords also owed services to higher nobles and, ultimately, to the king, although sometimes the king struggled to control powerful nobles and assert his authority over them. The king generally had to keep his nobles satisfied with his rule if he wanted to retain their loyalty because, while he was the source of their land and authority, they were effectively ruling over their own smaller lands with their own troops. While nobles owed their king military service and support, if they were dissatisfied with the state of their lands or were just unoccupied with other battles to fight and saw an opportunity, they would sometimes use their troops to raid the lands of neighboring nobles. Part of the king’s job involved preventing his nobles from being dangers to him and to each other. The king also made and enforced laws, settled disputes, and oversaw the collection of taxes.

Christianity, specifically in the form of Catholicism, was central to the lives of people in the Middle Ages. During this time, stonemasons and craftsmen developed new techniques for building impressive cathedrals that still stand today. These cathedrals were lavishly decorated with statues, frescoes, and stained glass windows that depicted Biblical stories and the lives of saints. These works of art were important for helping to teach people who did not have the ability to read the Bible themselves about their religion.

Religious orders of monks and nuns performed important functions for society, such as caring for people who were poor or sick, providing safe places for travelers to stay, and copying written texts by hand. In the centuries before the printing press was invented, there were only handwritten books, and they took time and skill to produce. It could take an entire year for someone to copy an entire Bible. Few people were able to own personal books, and much of the schooling in this period was provided by religious orders.

The book describes the rise of Islam during the early Middle Ages, increases in trade and commerce, the growth of towns, and guilds that controlled different professions. It also describes Medieval music and entertainment, such as plays and parades. One of my favorite parts of the book is about fairs and feast days.

The book ends by describing the beginning of the Renaissance and the rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman culture as well as the beginning of the Reformation and the development of new scientific discoveries and artistic styles.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies).

Eyewitness Castle


Castle by Christopher Gravett, photographed by Geoff Dann, 1994, 2004.

Eyewitness books are always great for the photographs that they use to illustrate the concepts in the book!

This book is all about Medieval castles. It starts by explaining the evolution of castle-building from early wooden motte-and-bailey castles to the great stone castles that we often think of as being the classic Medieval castle. However, stone castles could come in different shapes and styles, depending on where they were located.

The book shows examples of castles in different countries. Most of the focus of the book is on castles in European countries, including Spain, Germany, and France. However, the book also includes information about castles in Japan.

Castles were built for defense, and the book explains the types of defenses that castles would have, such as gatehouses, murder holes, lifting bridges, battlements with corbels and machicolations, and loopholes. It also explains what a siege was like, what types of weapons would have been used, and what knights and soldiers were like.

The parts of the book that I liked best were the parts that described the rooms in a castle and the daily lives of the people in a castle. Among the rooms in a castles were the great hall, kitchen, and chapel. I like how they show the objects that would be found in different rooms and how they would be used.

The book explains the lives of the lord of the castle and women and children who lived there. There is information about the types of foods they would eat in a Medieval castle and the types of games and entertainment they would have enjoyed.

There is also information about other workers in and around the castle, including the castle builders and people who tended the castle’s animals and worked in the agricultural fields around the castle, producing food and textiles for the population.

There are sections in the back of the book with additional facts and information about castles and the people who lived in them and a glossary.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies).

Eyewitness Ancient Egypt


Ancient Egypt by George Hart, 1990.

I love the way this book, like others in the Eyewitness series, shows photographs of artifacts so readers can not only read about how people lived but see the objects that they used. Each photograph in the book has a caption to explain what it is.

The book begins with an explanation about the origins of Ancient Egyptian civilization thousands of years ago, before there were pharaohs. Then, it explains about the geography of Egypt and the Nile and how the Nile floods and fertile lands along the river made Egyptian civilization possible.

The book then explains the concept of the Egyptian king as a “pharaoh.” The title of “pharaoh” comes from an Ancient Egyptian word meaning “great house”, referring to the palace where the king lived, so the king was the one who lived in the “great house.” However, the pharaoh was more than just the an important man living in a palace; he was also regarded as being a god. Most Egyptian rulers were male, although queens also sometimes ruled and were also regarded as divine. The book shows pictures of statues depicting pharaohs and explains a little more about some of the most famous pharaohs and queens. Then, it goes on to discuss life in the royal court.

Of course, no book about Ancient Egypt is complete without a discussion of mummies and tombs. Much of what we know about Ancient Egypt comes from what the Ancient Egyptians left in their tombs because Ancient Egyptians believed in life after death. They developed methods of preserving their bodies after death, and they stocked their tombs with things that they wanted to have with them in the next life. The book explains the embalming process, what pyramids and royal tombs were like, who the Egyptian gods and goddesses were, and what Egyptians believed about the journey to the afterlife.

I liked how the book not only explains different types of gods and goddesses in Ancient Egypt but also the roles of priests and temples in Egyptian society, types of religious rituals, and the role of religion and magical rituals in Ancient Egyptian medicine.

As the book covers a wide variety of different topics in Egyptian society, including scribes and writing, weaponry, and trading. I particularly like the parts focusing on daily life, like what Egyptian homes were like and some of the tools and details of different trades, like carpentry. The book has details about foods Ancient Egyptians ate, what music and dancing were like, and types of clothing and jewelry they had.

One of my favorite sections in the book is about toys and games in Ancient Egypt. We don’t know all of the details of games that were played in Ancient Egypt, but we do know that they had board games because they were found in tombs. Children’s toys were whimsical and included moving parts. Some of the games children played are similar to ones that children play today, like versions of leapfrog and tug-of-war and spinning tops.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive (multiple copies, including some in different languages)

Cleopatra: Queen of the Kings

Cleopatra: Queen of the Kings by Fiona MacDonald, illustrated by Chris Molan, 1998, 2003.

I always like books from DK Publishing because they have great illustrations, and they do a good job of helping to explain nonfiction topics, including different periods of history. However, one thing that’s important to realize is that you really have to read all of the small text that accompanies even the small pictures in order to get the full story. If you don’t, you may miss important details. Although this is a picture book, the detailed nature of the information and some of the dark subject matter make it inappropriate for young children.

This particular book is about the life of Cleopatra, the famous Egyptian queen. The queen we know as simply Cleopatra was actually Cleopatra VII. She was part of a dynasty of Egyptian rulers who were originally from Macedonia, a region of Greece. This dynasty was known as the Ptolemaic Dynasty because all of the kings in the dynasty were named Ptolemy, including Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII. There were certain names that were repeated in every generation of the family and even within generations, like Ptolemy (Cleopatra’s two brothers both had this name), Cleopatra (Cleopatra also had a sister who was also named Cleopatra), and Arsinoe (Cleopatra’s younger sister). The book doesn’t fully explain why they came from Macedonia, but one of Cleopatra’s ancestors, Ptolemy I, was a Macedonian nobleman and a friend of Alexander the Great. Ptolemy I went with Alexander the Great on his military campaigns. Through his service to Alexander the Great, Ptolemy I was made the Greek governor of Egypt, ruling from the city Alexandria, which had been established by Alexander the Great. Alexandria was an important port city as well as the seat of the royal family. It was a gathering place of traders, scholars, and people from different cultures in Egypt, although average Egyptian citizens viewed it more as city of foreigners, just as the royal family itself was also foreign. That’s an abbreviated explanation of the family’s history, but it helps to understand that, while the family ruled Egypt for generations, they remained culturally Greek. The book mentions that most of the members of Cleopatra’s family only spoke Greek and that Cleopatra departed from the norm by learning to speak Egyptian.

Cleopatra was born into tumultuous times in the history of Egypt and her family. Her father was known as a cruel ruler who taxes his people heavily and sent large amounts of money to Rome, attempting to befriend Roman leaders and bribe them not to invade Egypt. In 58 BC, Alexandrian citizens had enough of Ptolemy XII and the way he catered to Rome, and they revolted, forcing Ptolemy XII to flee the city for Rome. Cleopatra was only fourteen years old at the time. Members of the family were left behind in Alexandria when Ptolemy XII fled, and Cleopatra’s oldest sister, Berenice claimed the throne in her father’s absence. The Ptolemies were always focused on maintaining their power, even in the face of competition or opposition from family members, and they were not afraid to fight or even kill each other to maintain control. Berenice may have murdered another of her sisters during her time as queen because she died under mysterious circumstances. However, when Ptolemy XII returned to Egypt a few years later, he had Berenice executed as a rival for the throne. By then, Cleopatra was the oldest surviving child of the family, with only her youngest sister and her brothers still alive.

A few years later, Ptolemy XII died, and Cleopatra acted quickly and prudently to secure both her life and her power. Her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII, had a claim to the throne, but he was still only twelve years old, and Cleopatra was eighteen. Asserting her authority over her child brother, Cleopatra took the throne as the oldest remaining offspring of Ptolemy XII and married her brother in order to turn her brother from a rival for power into a further source of her own authority. She could then rule on her brother’s behalf as his wife as well as his older sister. (Other Egyptian rulers had married close relatives for reasons like that. Tutankhamen was similarly the result of an incestuous royal relationship.) As queen, Cleopatra called herself the Sun God’s Daughter, an old royal title that tied her image to rulers of the past and the gods of Ancient Egypt.

From the beginning, being queen was a difficult task for Cleopatra. There were famines in Egypt during the beginning of her reign, and Cleopatra had to manage a response that would satisfy the citizens that she was doing her job as ruler. Family rivalries were also an ever-present danger. Cleopatra knew that she had enemies in her court, including people who favored her brother over her. As her brother got older, he became dissatisfied with the way his sister was ruling without sharing power and authority with him. For a time, Ptolemy XIII forced Cleopatra to flee Egypt and go to Syria. Cleopatra took her sister Arsinoe with her, both to protect her from their brother and to prevent her from trying to seize power herself. (In the Ptolemy dynasty, either could be a possibility. When family members weren’t in danger from each other, they could be a danger to each other.)

In the meantime, Julius Caesar came to Egypt to collect a debt that he claimed that Cleopatra’s father had owed him. He arrived during the power struggle between Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII, and he decided that it would be for the best to try to mediate peace treaty with the two of them. He wanted to meet with both Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII together, but Cleopatra knew that there was a risk that she might be killed if she showed up for a meeting. Yet, she did want to meet with Caesar because she recognized that he could be an important friend and source of protection for her. She ended up visiting Caesar in secret. According to legend, she had herself delivered to Caesar’s room in a rolled-up carpet. Caesar was charmed by Cleopatra and became her ally. When the news of their alliance spread, it tipped the balance of power in the royal family. Caesar learned that Ptolemy XIII’s adviser was plotting against him and had him executed. Ptolemy XIII fled with Arsinoe to join the Egyptian army and was later killed and found dead in Alexandria’s harbor. Getting rid of her brother/husband and his advisers secured Cleopatra’s position. She had one remaining brother, Ptolemy XIV, who was only eleven years old at the time, so she married him, too, further solidifying her power. As her ally (and possible lover), Caesar provided her with guards for her safety.

Cleopatra had a son named Caesarion, who was rumored to be Caesar’s son as well. However, Romans feared that Julius Caesar would proclaim Caesarion as his heir. They didn’t want him as the future ruler of Rome, citizens were appalled at the way Arsinoe was paraded through the streets as a war prize, and people generally began to fear that Caesar was becoming too powerful. In 44 BC, Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators. Cleopatra was in Rome when Caesar was killed, and she fled back to Egypt with her son. Around this time, Ptolemy XIV disappeared, and he may have been murdered by Cleopatra. With a son to inherit her throne, Cleopatra no longer needed Ptolemy XIV. However, her Roman protector was now gone, and Cleopatra still had enemies at court. Cleopatra’s remaining sibling, Arsinoe, sided with Caesar’s enemies and plotted against her sister and Caesarion.

Nobody knows exactly what Cleopatra looked like (statues and carvings of her don’t always look alike, and they may have been idealized images of her), but she took care of her appearance as part of her image as queen. Apparently, Cleopatra was more striking than beautiful, and what struck people about her the most was her intelligence and personality. Her charm was one of her most important tools in winning allies, and she used it again to win over a new ally to replace Caesar. She found a new ally in Marcus Antonius (also known as Mark Antony), one of the candidates to replace Caesar in Rome.

Mark Antony needed the control of Egypt and its resources and the support of Cleopatra for his own political purposes. To win his support for her purposes, Cleopatra began a romantic relationship with Mark Antony that eventually became a major part of the legends around Cleopatra. Although Mark Antony already had a wife in Rome, he became devoted to Cleopatra and fathered a set of twins with her and, later, a third child.

When Caesar’s nephew, Octavian, learned that Antony had divorced his wife and was conspiring against him, he declared war on Egypt to take down both Antony and Cleopatra. Cleopatra and Antony’s forces were defeated at the Battle of Actium although the two of the escaped. Feeling that the end was probably near, Cleopatra had stoneworkers hurry to complete her tomb. She began experimenting with poisons, and she and Antony swore to each other that they would die together. When Antony’s soldiers turned against him and refused to fight, Antony was disgraced and forced to flee. He ended up taking his own life by stabbing himself. Cleopatra had retreated into her own mausoleum, planning to die, but Octavian allowed her to remain there as a prisoner while she arranged Antony’s funeral. The exact cause of Cleopatra’s death has never been confirmed, but according to legend, she arranged her own death by the bite of an asp and sent a note to Octavian, asking that she be buried with Antony.

It’s a tragic end to a story that was full of treachery and family rivalries from the very beginning. Octavian refused to allow any of Cleopatra’s children to assume the throne of Egypt, ending the reign of pharaohs forever. Rome took control of Egypt, and Cleopatra’s children were sent to be raised by Antony’s first wife in Rome, Octavia (who was also Octavian’s younger sister). Caesarion tried to flee to Syria, but he was caught and executed by Octavian’s orders. No one knows what happened to Cleopatra’s other two sons because they disappear from historical records after this point, so they may have died young (or were murdered, given how things went in the powerful circles in which they lived). However, Cleopatra’s daughter survived, grew up, and eventually married the King of Mauretania, a region in North Africa. The book mentions that she had a son that she also named Ptolemy, but it doesn’t mention that this Ptolemy was the last king of Mauretania and was assassinated by Caligula. Caligula and Ptolemy were distant relatives of each other because Ptolemy of Mauretania was a grandson of Antony, and Caligula was descended from both Antony and Octavian. In many ways, it seems like this family’s greatest misfortunes were themselves and each other. Fortunately, the death of death of Ptolemy of Mauretania didn’t end the family line. It’s unknown whether or not Cleopatra has living descendants today, but Ptolemy of Mauretania did have a sister (the details of her life are unknown) and a daughter named Drusilla, who apparently grew up, married, and continued the family line. Further down the family tree, relationships and offspring become harder to trace.

Something I particularly liked about this book was the separation between the legends of Cleopatra and the her known history. As with other ancient historical figures, the history and legends go hand-in-hand, and it can become difficult to separate the two. The book is pretty open about which parts of her life are known, what can’t be firmly established, and which parts of her story come to us from legend and may or may not be reality. The final section in the book discusses the known facts and fiction about Cleopatra and possible confusions between her and other Cleopatras in her family (which may be another reason why not all of the images of Cleopatra look alike). It also explains the information about Cleopatra in Plutarch‘s biography of Mark Antony and how his stories inspired Shakespeare’s play and modern movies about Cleopatra.

The book is available to borrow and read for free online through Internet Archive.